The Miami Dolphins move into their fourth day of training camp on Monday, meaning the team will be able to break out the pads for the first time this season. Sunday’s practice featured the first time running back Arian Foster was able to practice with the club, having been activated from the Physically Unable to Perform list earlier in the morning. Foster, who is coming back from a torn Achilles tear he suffered last year as a member of the Houston Texans in a game against the Dolphins, signed with the Dolphins in early July, providing the team with veteran depth in a young running back corps.
“It felt good to just be back out here again – to get my feet wet, grinding with the fellas, enjoying football again,” Foster said of his first practice in Miami. “It was a pretty routine training camp day – run the ball, throw the ball, catch the ball.”
“I think he was really ready to go,” Dolphins head coach Adam Gase said of Foster’s return to the active roster. “He did a conditioning test the other day just to kind of see where he was at and how he felt. I know (Head Strength and Conditioning Coach) Dave (Puloka) came back to me and he was like, ‘He absolutely annihilated this thing.’ I think he (Foster) was trying to prove a point to us like, ‘I’m ready to go.’”
Foster is looking to prove the 2015 season, when he averaged just 2.6 yards a carry before the injury, was an aberration rather than the new norm for a player who will turn 30 years old this month. “I actually feel better because I was coming off another injury,” Foster stated when asked about if he feels physically like he did before the injury. “I actually feel better – more rested, healthy. I got a chance to train all summer.”
“We just need to be smart,” Gase explained of how Foster’s playing time will progress during training camp. “I mean he’s coming off a major injury and we have to do a good job of making sure that, not only with the reps – and I know I’ve said this before with Cam (Wake) – of understanding how much he’s working in individual. We have to keep an eye on him because the biggest thing for us, it’s the duration. It’s training camp. It’s the preseason. It’s the regular season. We have to do a great job to make sure we’re doing the right things with him.”
Foster spent the first seven years of his career with the Texans after being signed as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee in 2009. He is a four-time Pro Bowl selection, with one First Team All Pro selection, and led the league in rushing yards in 2010. Moving to Miami marks the first time since college he has not been in Houston, a fact that Foster mentioned on Sunday. “The weather is nice. You get a little ocean breeze, that’s new (to me). But aside from that – the atmosphere here, the people here – they’re on the front line of sports medicine (and) sports science. You can really see that working to the players’ benefit and I’ve already learned a whole lot here.”
He then added, speaking of the playbook, “I’m getting it down. It’s going to take a little time getting reps, getting acclimated to the terminology and getting used to the cadences and stuff like that. But at the end of the day, football is football so I’ll pick it up.”
How long does he think it will take to get the entire playbook down? “Seven and a half days,” he laughingly answered when asked that question. When the follow-up question was how he arrived at that number, Foster again laughed and said, “I don’t know – it’s a weird question. You don’t know until you know. It was sarcasm.”
“Yes, it’s a new offense for him,” Gase said on the same topic. “I mean the best way these guys learn things is to get out there and do it. He hasn’t had a chance to do anything and today was his first chance to actually get a rep. So I know he was itching to get in there and I think he, personally, has a lot to prove. He wants to show, ‘I’m coming back from this thing. I’m going to make something of this opportunity.’”
Foster discussed his role in the Miami offense, and where his strengths can fit into the team’s offensive scheme this year, telling the media, “ I think being with Adam (Gase), he really emphasizes that he wants to get the ball out of the backfield. I feel like that’s my best attribute as a running back – catching the ball out of the backfield. I can run routes with anybody, I feel, so I will be doing that to the best of my ability.”
“I think anytime we have a guy (that can catch the ball), that gives us options,” Gase said of Foster’s ability as a pass catcher. “When I watch him run routes, it just looks so smooth, and he looks effortless. It almost looks like he’s not running fast, but for some reason, guys struggle to cover him and then he pulls away. You don’t see many times where, if that ball hits his hands, that it’s on the ground. When you got a running back that can do that, it’s a great matchup, because a lot of times you have linebackers on the running back. If you’re a really good running back that can catch the ball, they start putting a safety on you. Now all of a sudden you got a linebacker on a tight end. Now the matchups start becoming issues at other spots. The more he can do – and the more our running backs can do – the more it opens up things for other positions as well.”
“When I was growing up,” Foster explained of why he is considered a great route-running running back, “my father was a wide receiver, so I wanted to be a wide receiver like him. He always used to have us running a route tree ever since he was little. With repetition over time, you get good at it.”
Foster believes his work ethic will allow him to get back to being an elite running back in the league, but also knows he has to make sure he remains healthy this year, “Just consistency – coming out here and performing day in and day out to maximize my effort. But (I have to) be smart about it. I got a lot of time to rest last year so I feel fresh and I feel healthy.”
“That’s my nature,” he added about how he stays focused, despite the injury and battle back. “When you grow up with no lights and no food sometimes, you just develop that mentality. Nobody is going to hand anything to you, especially out there on the field. You have to handle the respect of your teammates and the respect of everybody around you, day in and day out. You just keep that mentality.”
The Dolphins return to the practice field on Monday. The practice will begin at 8:35am.